I absolutely love traveling in Africa. It is, by far, my favorite of the 6 continents that I have visited. Ever since my first trip, I was hooked. There’s just something addictive about the continent that I can’t explain. Sadly, Africa is also home to my least favorite country. In this article, I explain why I’ll never return to Tanzania and why you should go.
I’ll start off by saying, I’m not writing this article to dissuade you from visiting Tanzania. In fact, I highly recommend you go and experience the country for yourself. After all, Tanzania is home to some of the spectacular destinations in all of Africa including:
- Mount Kilimanjaro- Africa’s tallest mountain.
- Serengeti National Park- Probably the best place to go on a safari in Africa.
- Zanzibar- Home to some of the most beautiful beaches on earth.
As you can see, on paper Tanzania is an ideal travel destination. The vast majority of travelers enjoy their visit. I expected to as well. Particularly because I enjoyed the time I spent in the neighboring countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi so much. So, what’s so bad about Tanzania? Here’s my answer:
Why I’ll never return to Tanzania
There is no single thing I hated about the country. Overall, I simply felt unwelcome. Every day someone would try to scam me, overcharge me, pickpocket me, or hassle me in some way. People treated me like an enemy rather than a tourist. After a while, being treated so poorly just gets exhausting. Below, I’ll break down my worst parts about traveling in Tanzania.
The Tanzanian People
Arriving in Tanzania from Rwanda came as a shock. One thing I can say about people in East Africa is that they are incredibly friendly. Everyone you encounter is happy to chat, joke around, and help out. Hospitality in Africa is top notch. Tanzania is the one exception.
Everywhere I went in the country, I sensed a bit of animosity. Tanzanians seemed to have an ‘us vs them’ mentality when it comes to tourists. They only cared to interact if they thought they stood a chance to profit in some way. People treated me as a walking ATM most of the time I was in the country.
I’m used to people approaching me to try to sell something, beg, or run a scam. In most of the world, I just say no thanks and they give up and move onto the next target. In Tanzania, people tend to stick around with the sole purpose of being annoying. Even acting offended if you ignore them. They essentially go out of their way to try to get a rise out of you.
I experienced quite a bit of general unfriendliness as well. For example, while walking around minding our own business, some guy yelled at my friend and I for taking photos. We were on a public street photographing the scenery. Not even looking in his direction. The guy was harmless and we just ignored him but the overall vibe felt very welcoming.
Even the tone of people’s speech was unpleasant. In East Africa, it’s common for people to call foreigners ‘mzungu.’ You hear this word all over Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, and any other Swahili speaking region. People usually use this term in a lighthearted or joking manner to refer to a white person. It feels pretty racist but you grow used to it.
In Tanzania, the tone felt completely different. The term was almost always used in a derogatory manner that wasn’t nearly as common in Kenya or Uganda, for example. Of course, I don’t speak Swahili so I can’t say for sure. When people said the word mzungu in Tanzania, I could hear anger or disgust in their voice. I never felt in any danger but it sure felt derogatory.
This isn’t to say that all Tanzanians are all bad, of course. In fact, a couple of the most memorable characters I met on the trip were Tanzanians. Overall, I found that the country had a greater density of unfriendly and unwelcoming people than its neighbors. The constant poor treatment toward tourists really got to me after a while. I was relieved when I crossed to Malawi.
Scams and Crime in Tanzania
In my time in Tanzania, I encountered numerous scams and even fell for one. I would say that the frequency of scam attempts was higher in Tanzania than anywhere else I’ve traveled with the exception of India. Here are a couple of scams and crimes that I encountered:
Overcharging tourists is a common scam all over Africa. You just expect it. In most of Africa, it’s generally done with a light heart. Someone quotes an outrageous price and you negotiate. Just like anywhere else in the world. It’s a game. Tanzanians seemed to be playing a different game called ‘rip off the foreigner.’
I’m the first to admit that I’m really cheap. I haggle over 15 cents just out of principle if I feel that I’m being overcharged or ripped off. Constantly negotiating everything and arguing over price got tiring really quickly in Tanzania.
Pickpocketing in Tanzania
While exiting a minibus, a criminal pickpocketed my phone out of my pocket. He distracted me by placing a bag by my feet while a guy he was working with reached into my pocket. Luckily, I noticed that it was gone before the minibus left and I was able to get it back.
To read about how I did it, check out my article: My Phone was Pickpocketed in Tanzania and I got it Back!
For more info, check out my guide: How to Avoid Pickpockets While Traveling.
This is an infuriating scam that was attempted on me a few times. Hotels were the worst for this. Basically, they quote you one rate when you check in, then when you go to pay upon check out, the rate suddenly increases. It doesn’t matter if you had an online booking or just showed up.
On one occasion, I pulled up the confirmation email from Booking.com to show them the rate that I agreed to. Of course, they made up some nonsensical excuse for why it cost more. In this case, my friends and I just set down the original agreed upon amount of money on the counter at reception and walked out. There was a long argument first but it wasn’t going anywhere and we were getting frustrated so we just paid what we owed and walked.
People attempted this same scam on me at two hotels and a restaurant. Every time we were able to argue our way out of it. Nothing ever grew too heated. I could see the scam working on more passive or non-confrontational travelers though.
When it comes to scams like this, it’s the principle that bothers me. I’ll argue over pennies just because I hate dishonesty. Changing the price after its already been agreed on is just a lazy and insulting scam. Not to mention bad business.
Tourists in Tanzania
Because Tanzania is home to some of the most popular tourist destinations on the continent including Serengeti National Park, Zanzibar, and Kilimanjaro, the country sees a lot of tourists. These sites alone are worth putting up with the hassles of travel in Tanzania.
While tourism is great for the country’s economy, it’s also part of the reason I didn’t enjoy my time there. For whatever reason, Tanzanians love to push packaged tours. For example, visiting the Serengeti independently is nearly impossible due to the way that the government structures the park fees.
My friends and I learned this the hard way. In the end, we spent about the same as if we had booked a tour but had a shorter and more stressful experience. To read my thoughts on organized tours, check out my article: Africa Overland Tour Vs. Independent Travel.
Another problem with tourism in Tanzania is that locals simply don’t seem to want us around, unfortunately. As I described earlier, people treated me in a rude and unwelcoming manner time and time again during my travels in Tanzania.
I suspect that the high level of tourism is part of the reason that tourists are treated so poorly. Local people see foreign tourists throwing money around and they don’t like it. Maybe out of envy or the feeling of it being unfair. This is understandable but shouldn’t be a reason to treat tourists poorly. Because tourism pumps so much money into the Tanzanian economy, you’d expect tourists to be welcomed. This just isn’t the case.
In Tanzania, getting off the tourist trail is a bit more difficult than other parts of Africa. Pretty much everyone visiting travels between Arusha, Moshi, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar. I like exploring off the trail destinations. When traveling from Dar es Salaam to Malawi by bus, I thought maybe people in the south would be a bit more friendly because they see fewer tourists. I was wrong. I received the same poor treatment until I crossed the border.
Surprisingly, the moment I crossed into Malawi, everyone was friendly and welcoming again. I don’t know what would cause such a stark difference in attitude from one country to the next.
Tanzania is Expensive
Foreign tourists spending, in a few days, what a local makes in a year, drives prices higher. Locals sellers try to squeeze as much money out of the tourists as possible. They end up shooting themselves in the foot and costing themselves money in the long run.
The biggest problem with travel in Africa is that value for money is incredibly low. The locals see that tourists are willing to spend big money on hotel rooms, food, and tours but they provide a low-quality product in return. I believe this is also part of the reason that tourism to Africa is so low.
Why spend $100 on a hotel room that hasn’t been updated since 1960 that has daily power outages? For the same money, you could stay in a luxury hotel in Southeast Asia or Latin America. This isn’t a problem specific to Tanzania. It happens all over Africa.
Hopefully, African business owners recognize their mistake and lower prices or improve service and facilities. I would gladly return, even to Tanzania, if prices were reasonable. I enjoy visiting countries that I’ve already been to explore deeper. For example, I’ve spent over a year living in Mexico and made multiple trips there. I’ve traveled to Thailand multiple times as well. Because Africa is just so expensive for what you get, it doesn’t make sense to make a frequent vacation destination out of it. I found Tanzania particularly expensive.
The Tanzanian Visa
The regular single entry tourist visa for most nationalities costs $50 and is valid for 90 days. It is available at the border on arrival. All you need is your passport, yellow fever certificate, and $50 USD. This is a pretty standard visa cost for East Africa. It’s exactly the same for Uganda and Kenya.
The problem I had with the Tanzania visa is the fact that they charge US passport holders $100. This is a one-year multi-entry visa. It is the only option for Americans, unfortunately. I ended up paying twice what my friends did which was pretty annoying. For this reason alone, I probably won’t return to Tanzania. I really don’t want to give them another $100.
For more info on visas, check out my Africa Visa Guide.
Safety in Tanzania
Overall, Tanzania is a fairly safe place to visit. Violent crime against tourists is pretty rare. I have heard about a tourist being mugged in Dar es Salaam but it was kind of his own fault. For some reason, I felt a bit more on edge in Tanzania than the rest of Africa. Probably due to the general unfriendliness of most people.
Kenya, in particular, is known for being a dangerous country. Terrorism, violent muggings, and organ harvesting exist in the country. Statistically, the risk of falling victim to a crime is probably higher in Kenya than Tanzania. Even then, I felt much safer there. Probably because of the people. Kenyans are just so friendly and pleasant to be around.
I don’t think Tanzania is a dangerous country. People happily scam you and overcharge you. Petty theft is a problem. Many people simply aren’t friendly toward tourists. Having said this, there is a big difference between being unfriendly and being violent. I never felt in any physical danger in my time in Tanzania.
For more info, check out my guide: Is Africa Safe? Avoiding Crime, Disease, Injury, and Scams.
What I Liked About Tanzania
Of course, my experience in Tanzania wasn’t all bad. Even though I faced a number of hassles along the way, and I probably won’t’ return, I’m still glad I went. I recommend you go too. Here’s why:
- The Serengeti is spectacular- Camping in the park and seeing the milky way for the first time is one of my best travel experiences. The night sky alone made the trip worth the effort. For a classic safari experience, the Serengeti is hard to beat. To see how the Serengeti stacks up against the Maasai Mara, check my pros and cons list.
- Zanzibar is paradise- Nungwi beach in the north is probably the most perfect beach I’ve ever experienced. It looked like something off a postcard. The warm water of the Indian ocean and soft white sand made my stay unforgettable.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro- I didn’t make the climb. Mostly because of the cost. From what I have heard and read, it’s pretty epic and worth the trip.
- Small towns in Tanzania are actually pretty pleasant- While on my way from Kigali to Arusha, I spent a night in Singida. On my journey from Dar es Salaam to Malawi, I spent a night in Mbeya. Both of these small towns were interesting and much more pleasant than the cities. People seemed a bit more friendly and the area wasn’t packed with tourists.
Alternative Destination Recommendations: Kenya and Uganda
While Tanzania has some great sites, one of my favorite countries, Kenya, offers an equivalent or better experience at a much lower price. As an added bonus, the people are much friendlier. Here’s why I recommend Kenya over Tanzania:
- You can go on a safari in the Maasai Mara for less than half of the cost of the Serengeti- For a step-by-step guide, check out my article: How to Safari in the Maasai Mara for less than $200. I actually Maasai-Mara to the Serengeti.
- The Kenyan coast is just as beautiful as Zanzibar- Mombasa, Mtwapa, and Diani Beach can easily compete with Zanzibar.
- You can climb Mount Kenya for a fraction of the price of Kilimanjaro- Some say the view is better. The only drawback is that you don’t get the bragging rights of having climbed the tallest mountain in Africa. For more info, check out this great guide from Beardandcurly.com.
- Nairobi is an awesome city- In fact, it’s my favorite African city. For more info, check out my list of 21 incredible things to do in Nairobi.
Uganda is another excellent alternative to Tanzania. The country is cheap, beautiful, and is home to some of the friendliest people in all of Africa. The drawback is that the country is landlocked so you can’t enjoy the beach. You can, however, check out beautiful Lake Bunyonyi. For more info, check out my guide: 13 Incredible Things to Do in Uganda.
Final Thoughts on Why I’ll Never Return to Tanzania
Hopefully, this article helps you avoid some of the problems that I encountered while traveling in Tanzania. Physically, the country is one of the most beautiful that I have visited. From the plains of the Serengeti to the beaches of Zanzibar, there is absolute beauty everywhere in Tanzania.
Unfortunately, the constant hassles, scams, and annoyances made the trip more stressful than it had to be. Not to mention the expense. While I’ll never return to Tanzania, I do admit, the country does have a lot to offer.
Have you traveled to Tanzania lately? Share your experience in the comments below!
I was inspired to write this article after reading a post on the same topic from one of my favorite travel bloggers, Nomadic Matt. Read about which country he’ll never return to here.
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